When the New England Patriots announced placing the franchise tag on starting left guard Joe Thuney in March, their official statement said that the tag would allow “both sides more time to try to reach the goal of a long-term agreement.” Four months later, time is running out: the NFL’s deadline to reach contract extensions with players on the franchise tag is today, meaning that Thuney’s contract status for the 2020 season will be decided over the next few hours — one way or another.
The NFL’s official offseason calendar states the following about July 15:
At 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for any club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multiyear contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2020 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.
From New England’s perspective, this is pretty straight forward: the team either reaches a contract extension with Thuney until 4pm today, or the 27-year-old will play the upcoming season under the franchise tag and hit unrestricted free agency next spring. While the two sides would be able to resume talks after the end of the regular season — January 4 — if no deal is reached today, getting one done would create long-term financial clarity.
The Patriots therefore likely prefer to reach an extension with the former third-round draft pick, as it would allow them to keep Thuney beyond the 2020 season while also lowering his current salary cap number of $14.78 million. New England did gain some additional cap space over the weekend and now sits at a comparatively comfortable $7.79 million, but a long-term deal could possibly create even more flexibility both this year and beyond.
That said, there are two factors working against a deal being reached:
1.) Covid-19: The Coronavirus pandemic is already changing life in the NFL, but the financial impact will not be felt until next year. After all, the salary cap for each season is calculated based on the league’s revenue. If no or fewer fans are allowed to enter stadiums this season — New England, for example, will reduce game day capacity at Gillette Stadium — the revenue could decline, leading to an uncertain salary cap situation for next year. The Patriots might therefore be cautious when it comes to handing out top-of-the-market deals.
2.) The lure of free agency: Thuney’s camp has little incentive to sign a deal now, despite Covid-19 and its potential impact on the league’s salary cap development. Even if he suffers an injury this year — Thuney is one of the most durable players in football and has never missed a game due to injury since joining the Patriots as a third-round draft pick in 2016 — he is likely in line for a major payday next year.
Add it up, and you can see why contract talks between the two sides have reportedly gone nowhere so far. That could still change today, but the expectation is that Thuney will spend the 2020 season under the tag and thus push the decision about his long-term future back a few months.